Coronavirus | Centre’s extra ration promise yet to be kept at PDS shops

Orders issued to States only on Monday; States yet to lift the additional grain for the distribution of extra 5 kg rice or wheat

Updated - March 31, 2020 10:47 pm IST

Published - March 31, 2020 10:34 pm IST

On an empty stomach: Beneficiaries waiting in a queue to collect rations at Shahpur Jat in New Delhi on Tuesday.

On an empty stomach: Beneficiaries waiting in a queue to collect rations at Shahpur Jat in New Delhi on Tuesday.

One week into the COVID-19 lockdown, and five days after the Centre’s welfare package was announced, there is no sign of the promised free grains and pulses at ration shops across the country.

Although the Finance Minister promised that the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana would come into effect immediately, the Food Department only issued orders to the States on Monday, and States are yet to lift the additional grain for the distribution of the extra 5 kg rice or wheat per beneficiary. For the promised 1 kg of free pulses, the need to process and transport procured dals, is causing even further delays.

Also read: Centre’s relief measures on statutory, regulatory compliance matters

Jaigunnissa, a 38-year old domestic worker and mother of three, is disgruntled by the delay. She has walked for more than half-an-hour from her home in Delhi’s Sarai Kale Khan area, in order to stand in the morning sun outside her ration shop in Bhogal, slowly moving from one chalk circle to the next, keeping the proper coronavirus-era distance from other shoppers.

“I heard that the Modi sarkar announced extra ration last week itself. But when I come here, I find that they are still giving only the 7.5 kg promised by Kejriwal,” she says, gesturing to the large poster of the Delhi Chief Minister hung at the entrance to the shop, promising an enhanced ration of 6 kg of wheat and 1.5 kg of rice, now provided free of cost to each beneficiary.

Lost livelihood

She and her husband, who has a cycle-rickshaw, have both lost their livelihood due to the lockdown. “The lady of the house where I work has said that since she is now doing all the cooking, cleaning, washing, she cannot pay me any salary. So I am dependent on ration only. My children will only get rotis and salt during this lockdown.,” she adds, using her dupatta as a makeshift mask.

“We have just issued the notice to States to lift the additional allocation,” Food Secretary Ravikant told The Hindu on Monday, four days after the initial announcement. “States now have to plan and organise transportation from the godowns [of the Food Corporation of India].”

Also read: Central government’s ₹ 1.7-lakh crore welfare package

Advice to States

The March 30 notice to States advises them to lift the additional allocation together with the regular monthly allocation under the National Food Security Act within the timelines prescribed for that. “However, for States/UTs which have already lifted the allocation under NFSA for April may lift this additional allocation for April till 30 April,” says the notice, seeming to indicate that many ration cardholders may not actually receive their extra free grains for some weeks to come.

The distribution of pulses may be more complicated as few States regularly incorporate them into their public distribution system so far. Senior officials under the Consumer Affairs Department say that the groundwork has just begun, with States having sent in their requisitions.

While a sufficient stock of 34.25 metric tonnes of pulses are available with NAFED, these are whole grams directly procured from farmers, and are yet to be milled and processed, for which the Centre will need to rope in private players. Also, unlike FCI, which has procurement and storage facilities for rice and wheat in every district, pulses are procured from eight or nine districts only, creating more transportation and logistical hurdles, said an official.

For 52-year-old Mohammad Akhtar, standing in queue outside the Bhogal PDS shop for the second consecutive day after surging crowds prevented distribution on Monday, that may be too little too late. The garment factory worker does not even have money to pound the ration wheat he gets, let alone buy vegetables, dal or oil.

“I have only ₹40 remaining in my pocket which I am saving up for emergencies,” he says, adding that his family of four children are now dependent on the food served at a local government school.

Running out of food

“At this point, ration shops have become more crucial than ever before for the 40% of the Delhi population who are NFSA beneficiaries, at a time when lakhs of people are running out of food and are on the brink of starvation due to the lockdown,” says Amrita Johri of the Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan (Right to Food Campaign), which has started monitoring shops across the city during the lockdown.

“Out of the 31 shops we have checked so far, four of them — over 10% — were closed, with grave consequences for those who depend on them for sustenance,” she said, noting that further inquiry may have uncovered a black market operation being run out of one of the closed shops.

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